As the Gov 2.0 revolution continues to pick up steam, many of the world’s largest technology and Internet companies are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to offer their wares to governments around the globe. IBM has launched its Smarter Cities initiative, and is busy developing software analytic tools to help government monitor and manage their data and deliver services better and cheaper. Microsoft too has been pushing its public sector cloud initiatives. Not to be outdone, the Internet search giant Google is now pushing ahead with more offerings aimed at the Gov 2.0 crowd.
Most recently, the company announced a new government certified version of Google Apps — its cloud based email, calendaring and document suite. While the technology has already been adopted by some cities and government agencies, this new version includes security features that comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act. Whether the new accredited version will help increase the adoption of Google Apps in the public sector is still unclear, but the company is certainly hoping that more CIOs will make the jump.
Beyond making its existing applications more government-friendly, Google has also invested in several tools that are aimed at empowering citizens to use technology to develop new mobile tools and save energy.
Particularly useful for cities and organizations that lack the resources to develop custom mobile applications is Google’s new App Inventor for Android. A free tool, the App Inventor allows non-developers to create applications for the company’s mobile phone operating system — which is becoming a increasingly popular alternative to the iPhone. Using a visual drag and drop interface and small chunks of pre-defined behaviors, someone without any programming experience can build a custom application using city data (one app already created makes use of transit data from San Francisco).
Google is also trying to leverage social media with its Power Meter software, which provides online real-time readings of energy consumption from Internet-enabled electricity meters and devices. Users of the software can share their energy use data with friends and neighbors, and compare their consumption levels with others — with the hope that this might inspire more energy conservation.
Outside of its own products, the company has also sponsored application contests in California, and has worked with public agencies like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help build local developer communities around public transit data.
Of course, even without a specific focus on Gov 2.0, Google’s products have and will likely continue to make important contributions to the creation of civic software. The company’s online mapping software is integrated into numerous online applications — providing the base maps to overlay crime reports and bicycle sharing stations (as well as its own Google Transit). And given that the Google search engine is the most visited site on the Internet, it’s likely that the company handles countless requests everyday from people looking to connect with their local government online.